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Rob Krier: Urban Space (1979)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Reviewed by Che-Yu Liu
Introduction Robert Krier was born in 1938 in Grevenmacher. He is the older brother of fellow architect Leon Krier. He published Stadtraum in Theorie und Praxis in 1975. This book is a contribution to the establishment of an integrative typology of urban spaces, and let him to earn an influential position in urban rationalist polemics. His rationalism is based on the visual hierarchies proposed by Camillo Sitte and related to buildings of human scale. He considered that people have lost the sight of traditional understanding of urban space in the modern city. The major reason is that the citizens are aware of their environment and sensitive enough to compare the town planning achievements of the present and the past. They have the strength of character to pronounce sentence on the way things have gone. In this context, Robert Krier tries to explain the concept of ‘Space’ and how the traditional understanding of urban space may be reintroduced within the modern cities. In discussing the concept and the definition of ‘Urban space’, Rob Krier wished to clarify without imposing aesthetic criteria. He mentioned some types of space which exist between buildings in towns and other localities as urban space to discuss the function of the town planning. The polarity of internal and external space is constantly in evidence in this chapter. The laws of each are very similar not only in the form but also in the function. The internal space is an effective symbol of privacy which is covered from weather and environment. The external space is seen as open, unobstructed space for movement in the open air, with public, semi-public and private zones. The classification of urban space could be the suggestion to the town planner,that the two basic forms which constitute urban space are the street and the square. The geometrical characteristics of both spatial forms are the same such as the corridor and the room of ‘internal space’. The difference between them are the dimensions of the walls which bound them and by the patterns of function and circulation.
The square is produced by the grouping of houses around an open space. Rob Krier believed that the square was the first way for man of using urban space. This kind of arrangement supplies a high degree of control of the inner space. The street is a product of the spread of settlement once houses have been built on all available space around its central square. It has a more pronouncedly functional character than the square, which by virtue of its size is a more attractive place to pass the time than the street, in whose confines one is involuntarily caught up in the bustle of traffic. The street is unsuitable for the flow of motorised traffic, whilst remaining appropriate to human circulation and activity. The number and speed of cars remains a source of anxiety. The separation of pedestrians and traffic carries with it the danger of the isolation of the pedestrian zone. Solutions must be carefully worked out which will keep the irritation of traffic noise and exhaust fumes away from the pedestrian, without completely distancing one zone from the other. In formulating a typology of urban space, spatial forms and their derivatives may be divided into three main groups, according to the geometrical pattern of their ground plan. These groups derive from the square, the circle or the triangle. The three basic shapes are affected by the following modulating factors: angling; segmentation; addition; merging, overlapping or amalgamation of elements; and distortion. These modulating factors can produce geometrically regular or irregular results on all spatial types. At the same time, the large number of possible building sections influences the quality of the space at all these stages of modulation. All sections are fundamentally applicable to these spatial forms. The terms ‘closed’ and ‘open’ may be applied to all spatial forms described up to now. The spaces are the concept which is completely or partially surrounded by buildings. In discussing the erosion of urban space in twenty century town planning, Rob Krier said that the erosion of urban space is an on-going process which has been with us for the last fifty years in the guise of technological progress serving a democratic society. For instance, after the French Revolution, the development of new military technology and new tactical patterns for warfare ushered in an era. The defensive systems of towns were no longer offered adequate protection against the new weapon. City walls were demolished because the walls were no longer useful to the town. The decline of the city wall coincided with the start of industrial development, which forced cities into unprecedented growth. The influence of industrial building had a catastrophic effect on urban planning. The appearance of the buildings’ architectural style and design seemed to be of no consequence. Inhuman conditions were imposed on the worker and this process of town planning was destructive. Any planning innovation in a city must be governed by the logic of the whole and in design terms must offer a formal response to pre-existing spatial conditions. Without a doubt, contemporary town planning with its total disregard for spatial problems is a more attractive proposition in the current sociopolitical climate. It is no coincidence that priority is given to traffic and the other trappings of technology, rather than to people's need for a tolerable urban environment. As Rob Krier said “As long as man needs two arms and two legs, the scale of his body must be the measure of size for all building.

Announcing the Fourth Annual MA A+U Symposium: DENSIFY

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Fourth Annual MA A+U Symposium will take place on the theme of DENSIFY on Thursday 2 May 2013. Use these links to follow announcements of details, venue and speakers on twitter. Information on the previous symposia in this series can be viewed via the links below. CONSUMED: 2012 GET OVER IT! 2011 HIVE MINDS 2010

Architecture + Urbanism recommends 'Future Everything'

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Future Everything: Summit of Ideas and Digital Invention Manchester, England 21-24 March 2013
One of the three themes for Future Everything 2013 is Future Cities Cities, the natural spaces for innovation, are at the foreground of change today. Technologists and urbanists, grassroots groups and communities of hackers and makers are working with citizens to make our urban environments better. Digital is offering us the chance to rethink infrastructures and services, from transportation to energy, and reinvigorate our public spaces. FutureEverything will showcase how Future Cities are becoming public laboratories to rethink the way we live.

Where are we now, Number Six?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

2012 MA A+U graduate and Beit Scholar Nicholson Kumwenda has returned to Malawi where he is currently designing and building the Likuni low cost housing development, a settlement of 91 new houses. The project, which is due for completion in May, is funded by Homeless International. Nicholson, who researched rammed earth construction while in Manchester, is pictured on the site where road grading has just commenced.

Manuel de Sola-Morales: A Matter of Things (2008)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Reviewed by Shiyuan Qin
Manuel de Sola-Morales (1939-2012) was an architect and city planner, mostly dedicated to urban design matters. He was also a Catalan architect who came to prominence during Spain’s cultural and economic renaissance. The book is divided into three parts- theories, projects and selected writing. In addition, it comprises some theoretical writings by de Sola-Morales and others. And it also indicates a large amount of his work in practice between 1988 and 2005. The book is well illustrated but could benefit from a larger format/larger photographs. It traces the development of his ideas from a fairly conventional viewpoint to his own, individual and occasionally mischievous stance. For Manuel de Sola-Morales, the city did not consist of abstractions, but of concrete, tangible things. Urbanity, even dealing with a metropolis that is a node in world-wide networks of capital, people, commodities and ideas, is inextricably tied to materiality. Underlying the works presented in this book is an attentive, sensitive approach to the existing and potential richness of urban sites. His projects derived from an original observation of city spaces, and are meant to be reinterpretations and proposals for their transformation. They can be regarded as an urban architecture, at the interface of buildings and city plans. By transforming the physical reality at the scale of a building, an urban element, or sometimes with nothing more than the layout of a public space, Manuel de Sola-Morales operated changes that often transcend the physical or spatial dimensions of the intervention. de Sola-Morales's method offers a guide for an analysis of how the city, understood as a built entity, can impede or promote human behaviour and thereby affect the habitus of urban residents - now more than half the world's population. Manuel de Sola-Morales deviated from current professional practice in that he operated as the author of urban designs. He did not have a large firm, local authority department or consultancy behind him. He practised urban design the old fashioned way as a craftsman and thinker in his studio, the opposite of the bureaucratic and technocratic surroundings in which most urban design plans are created. As an architect he worked in a similar way, and would be unable to operate differently since he was a designer for whom the two disciplines of architecture and urban design are not just extensions of one another but merge seamlessly. In many of his projects it is impossible to indicate where one discipline passes into the other His architecture affected his urban design, just as his urban design always had an architectural component. The urban design approach to architecture is expressed in the way in which de Sola-Morales managed to de-individualize his buildings. As an architect de Sola-Morales and his work evaded the usual personality cult and he maintained a reticence and lack of adornment that have become rare today and which might be considered anonymous, but which should be regarded as essential if architecture is to be urban in the full sense of the word.
The skin of cities is composed of constructions, textures and contrasts, of streets and empty spaces, of gardens and walls, of contours and voids. 'Bricks and mortar' is how the perspicacious geographer Maximilien Sorre defined the city. Plus movements and crossroads, vehicles and facades, basements and subterranean ducts. Shops, offices, empty building sites, apartments, museums, theatres and all kinds of empty buildings. Kerbs and pavements, warehouses and storage depots, factories and markets, monuments and ruins, stations, stadiums. It is precisely the contact between our bodies and these forms of physical matter that constitutes the urban experience. 'Flesh and Stone' is the title of one of Richard Sennett's most beautiful texts on the city. This is why the ramps and staircases, the gateways and corners are so important, because in them we feel with our weight the shape and size of the city. The projects of de Sola-Morales are divided into three different kinds of styles-to create a place (things invented, condensed form (things overlapping) and heterogenous accumulation (things in conflict). As there are geographical peripheries that have given rise to the term, so are there historical peripheries, places that time and memory have pushed to the margins of daily life. Sometimes, the urban unconscious masks the areas it does not want to recognize, because they are inconvenient, muddied and filled with conflict. And yet these zones can be absolutely central from a topographic viewpoint just as there are 'historic centres', places that history has considered central, there are also peripheries constructed by history. The project for Saint Nazaire 'Ville Port', drawn up in successive competitions and execution phases between 1994 and 1996, proposed a system of new guidelines in the port territory designed to involve the town and harbour in a new and more open, composite and active relationship. In the immediate surroundings the guidelines refer to the empty squares and parking lots between the centre and the submarine base; the ramp providing access to the roof of the bunker, with its incorporated hypermarket and housing; the 'atrium of the harbour' created in the transparent interior of the concrete cavern as space for a vestibule for exhibition halls, movie houses and restaurants. And, in the distance, at the outer perimeter that delimits the old German base, the towers both older and recent that rise above the harbour and the reinforcement of the avenues that skirt it, fuses the entire area into a structure that is both loose and strong. A structure of visual and functional relations that effectively mark a territory on the periphery, maintaining all the vitality of its industries (storage facilities, refrigeration plants, manufacture of fishing nets and moorings) mixed in with a few regional and civic functions of recreation, culture and commerce. In conclusion de Sola-Morales’s standpoint was one of humility and pragmatism. Architects have the capacity to add and enrich but not to solve. Architecture should not be heroic, ideological or about engineering society - a dangerous ambition. His approach is not about comprehensive redevelopment but surgical insertions.

Where are they now? Hi Five!

Friday, January 4, 2013

2011 MA A+U graduate Jonas Komka from Lithuania has created a new website about his work. You can view the site, with examples of his urban, architectural, design and video work here.

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